Enter Rivera: Yankee closer awaits his place in Hall of Fame

Published 8:21 am Friday, July 19, 2019

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — It never changed for Mariano Rivera — from his childhood in the fishing village of Puerto Caimito in Panama to the pitcher’s mound at Yankee Stadium.

“I always wanted to be the last guy to kick the ball or took the last shot at the basket. Give me the ball,” Rivera said. “I wanted to contribute to this victory. I wanted to help my team do whatever it took to win, and it worked many times.”

With that mindset came greatness.

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A lightly regarded pitcher when signed as an amateur free agent with the New York Yankees in 1990, Rivera struggled as a starter but found his niche as a reliever with a devastating cut fastball.

The Yankees won seven pennants and five World Series with Rivera in the bullpen. His major league record of 652 saves was his ticket to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Not for nothing was nicknamed Sandman, after the Metallica song “Enter Sandman” that boomed across Yankee Stadium whenever he headed to the mound, ready to silence bats.

His greatness on the mound and his humble spirit — win or lose — helped Rivera achieve another milestone. He’s the only player in history to be elected unanimously , receiving all 425 votes in the January balloting.

“I feel humbled that I was the one that the Lord blessed,” said the 49-year-old Rivera, who will be inducted Sunday. “It won’t change my life, but it’s something that you know that you were the first one. That is special.”

Rivera joins Rod Carew as the only Panamanians elected to the Hall of Fame. He heads a class that also includes pitchers Mike Mussina, Lee Smith and the late Roy Halladay, and designated hitters Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines.

Baines and Smith were selected in December by a veterans committee. Rivera, Mussina, Martinez and Halladay were elected in January by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.